This is the time of year for pondering the past and peering into the future, and I wish I could foresee a prosperous New Year. Not just for the United States, where I live, or for Jamaica, where I was born, or England, which I visited on a scholarship, or Canada, where I spent about 20 years of my working life, but for the rest of the world as well.
Despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth by so many people in the developed nations, who are alarmed by the lingering economic crisis and depressed by the impact – actual or anticipated – on their own households, we are the lucky ones. We ate breakfast. We will eat lunch. And dinner. There are cars in our garages, clothes in our closets, heat when we are cold, air conditioning when we are hot… The new year is likely to be even better for us, not much better but better.
How different that is from Afghanistan (photo at right), where outdoor toilets are a luxury and a hole in the ground is often the only available place to sleep. I’m not talking just about the primitive tribesmen that America and NATO forces are trying to kill. Our troops are not much better off in that forbidding wasteland where we have sent them to risk their lives in an uncertain cause.
And think of conditions in the slums of India… or the barrios of Brazil… or parts of Africa, where children are dying of disease, starving to death, and mutilated or murdered for no valid reason…
It is not fair that I should sit in this quiet den, across the street from a tranquil lake, secure in the knowledge that no planes will come to drop bombs on me, no marauding soldiers will overwhelm my home, no secret police will seize and hold me without an explanation. Not fair because so many in other parts of the world live in terror and deprivation through no fault of their own.
I was chatting over the phone with a friend from Guatemala the other day, and she told me one of her relatives back in that small Latin American country has had to go into hiding because of a kidnapping threat. It has become commonplace in Guatemala for gang members to kidnap middle class people and hold them for ransom. The gangs are rampant, she said, because the country does not have the resources to combat them. With the money they make from trafficking in drugs, the outlaws can buy more powerful weapons and mobilize a stronger military force than the government.
The situation is just as bad in Mexico, where the cartels are in open conflict with official forces. And throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, drugs flow freely and violent gangs proliferate. Drug trafficking is also blatant in other parts of the globe (see map, above). I read a report recently about cocaine being unloaded by government soldiers in a West African country and transported overseas in diplomatic pouches.
The international drug trade is flourishing, and with it comes not just unimaginable misery but also every conceivable societal blight. The tentacles of international traffickers reach into every aspect of society, from prostitution and gambling to commodities trading and real estate development. It is virtually impossible to trace “drug money” when it is “laundered” through the global business network. And if we could track a drug dollar’s progress, we would probably be amazed at whose pocket it ends up in.
Why has opium production skyrocketed in Afghanistan since the start of the invasion? How do illicit narcotics move so freely around the globe, crossing the borders of so many countries? How do the drugs get past military checkpoints, Customs inspections and airport “security”?
It certainly looks as if some kind of protective conspiracy exists, with involvement at the highest levels of society. But, of course, I have no evidence to support my suspicions. There’s a lot of bizarre stuff on the web, but who knows how much of it – if any – is true?
Still, I can’t help wondering why, with the drug trade so open and unfettered, governments have not legalized the sale of narcotics? Why don’t they treat cannabis, cocaine and opium like any other “controlled substance”? Is it because there’s so much money to be made by keeping them illegal?